Category Archives: Advent and Christmas

March 25: Rejoice!

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Rejoice, you who enjoy God’s favour!

Luke 1:28

These are the words spoken by the Archangel Gabriel to the Blessed Virgin Mary when he first appears to her at the annunciation. He commands: “Rejoice!” In a fallen world, where her holy Child will suffer, where he will die, in a world which will never easily or fully accept the story now beginning to unfold before the young woman’s eyes, and in which her own role will be very nearly as dangerous, crucial and sorrowful as the Messiah’s own role, in this circumstance Mary is commanded by a heavenly messenger to rejoice.

Doesn’t this raise an important issue for us, the faithful? It is easy to dismiss these words, and not allow their full impact to echo in our mind. It is easy to see them as applying to the Mother of Jesus, but not to us. But her joy should be ours. Why isn’t it?

There is a rather punitive undertow to received spirituality that is suspicious of joy, that labels Christian joy out of touch with reality, insufficiently engaged with the world’s suffering victims of poverty, disease, hunger, disaster, war, injustice. That says accusingly, ‘The Messiah has not eliminated any sufferings. What good is he? Why rejoice?’

Yet the angel commands the young Mary to rejoice. He doesn’t merely invite, or suggest. His words are much stronger than that. He utters a divine injunction, a non-negotiable absolute. He is an angel, after all. He can’t be wrong about this. He knows what he is doing and saying. Let this fact settle for a moment or two.

Doesn’t this divine imperative to rejoice, therefore, release something in the heart? Isn’t this truly Good News? The Angel Gabriel not only commands that Mary rejoice, he commands us to do so, also. And in so doing, He gives us permission to release that joy which is hidden in our heart, always just below the surface, always wanting to come out, and which our lugubrious self is always scolding back into hiding. But, just for a moment now, allow this joy to surface. Now, see where it takes you.

SJC

Sister Johanna has returned like a breath of fresh air! Can we whisper an alleluia in Lent? REJOICE anyway!

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2 February: A meeting in the Cloister

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Anna and Simeon, the old people forever in the Temple cloister, were blessed to see and to caress the Baby who was the Salvation of the Lord, the Light of the nations and the Glory of Israel.

Simeon knew this, and he was at peace. But he broke off his song of praise, lapsing into prose to warn Mary of the sword that would pierce her heart; as sharp a sword as any parent feels who sees a child die early or run off the rails through addiction, avarice or broken relationships.

But every child should be a sign of hope. By now, 40 days old, Jesus would be taking notice of the world he is being carried through by his loving parents. He will have felt safe in Simeon’s hands, but he would have registered the sudden emotional switch between the old man’s prayer and his warning advice to Mary; he would have been glad to return to her. She, too, would have been disturbed, but she surely made the effort to be positive for her son.

flight.egypt

She stored all these things in her heart; Joseph, meanwhile, was about to receive another dream, pick up his tools, and lead the family to safety in Cairo, because this child was a sign of hope in dark times.

2nd Image from Missionaries of Africa.

 

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The long Christmas Season: songs from L’Arche Edinburgh.

crib window EH l'Arche

Good Morning All,

Here is an advertisement from L’Arche Ednburgh for their Christmas CD: they mean the long Christmas, from Advent – early December – until February 2 – Candlemas.

Best wishes, Will. 

My Bonnie Dearie

Carols from Finland to Scotland

Carols from advent to Candlemas, sung in English, by da Noust :

a scratch and informal community singing group of members and friends of L’Arche Edinburgh

Orders via anthonykramers@yahoo.co.uk – available now

In person @ £4 for one and £10 for 3 / + postage if required at cost c. £2 extra for one, £4 for 3. Payment by BACS or cheque

Thanks to .da Noust : Jeremy Devlin-Thorp, Rebecca Fonseca, Cath Norman, John Norman, Sally Fraser, Hugh Fraser, Caitlin Morrow, Sheila Tansey, Dave Middleton, Magnus Kramers, Anthony Kramers, Marguerite Kramers & Phil McBride (Sonic Lodge studio, Leith)

Once a stable bare, now a rose of fire Track one online @ https://youtu.be/bo8wIiVpu0g Images & songs © da Noust

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January 4: Coming together at Christmastide.

madonna.s.mildred.

A short while before Christmas Janet, John from Uganda and I turned up at the ancient church of Saint Mildred in Canterbury for the Service of Nine Lessons and Carols. L’Arche being L’Arche, we often find ourselves straddling the denominations like this. Saint Mildred’s is a home from home: The L’Arche garden occupies the Glebe here1. We use their kitchen, have refreshments with the ladies on Friday mornings, and help with Harvest Festival; we have barbecues in summer, watch birds in January, and our pilgrimage across Kent finished here last May.

To represent L’Arche, now an important part of the parish, I was invited by the Rector, Jo Richards, to read the Matthew infancy narrative at the service. Saint Mildred’s is a far cry from King’s College Chapel in Cambridge whose Nine Lessons and Carols is world famous. Saint Mildred’s is not beset with Tudor self-justification and aggrandisement, as King’s is, but it looks as good, in its own way, by candlelight.

This old church remembers our little local Saxon princess who did things her own way, which was the Lord’s. She was one of those determined 7th Century princesses who wanted to study and pray in a religious community: her community is now established back at Minster Abbey where our contributor, Sister Johanna lives out her calling.

And if a few more of today’s young women were given their chance to discover, discern and live out their vocation within the church where would we be? And we are most grateful for the faithful witness of friendship extended to us by the ladies of the parish, together with Church warden Mary and Rector Jo. That helps to bring the Church back together; we should not do things apart that we could do together; we can see this maxim working well locally with the shared welcome for homeless people given by the churches.

Here is the statue of the greatest Christian woman of all time with her Son, within Saint Mildred’s church. It was candlelit for the Nine Lessons and Carols.

1A Glebe was land set apart for a parish priest to support himself – an ecclesiastical allotment.

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2 January; In the grey Mancunian midwinter.

north pole

Not long before Christmas I took a railway journey across Manchester on one of the darkest days of the year. Since I was visiting my mother for her birthday, I resisted the temptation to continue towards Blackpool North (Pole), but the signaller’s humour was welcome on a bleak morning.

ok not okIt was also good to see this note from Sam on behalf of the Samaritans, who are well aware that this season is not festive for everybody. Sadly, the railway is often a suffering soul’s chosen suicide spot. Sam’s message may persuade someone to ring them, as may the message on many train tickets.

samaritans.ticket nov2017By the time I was making my return journey, the weather had turned from a saturated mist to a greasy drizzle. Walking to Greenfield station with bright LED headlights shining in my face was no joy.

But Saddleworth Catholic church of the Sacred Heart already had their crib on display in the porch. A reminder of the hope that is in us.

Christian or not, we are given the virtue of hope to see us through the dark times. Christian or not, a helpless babe is not hopeless. He or she reaches out in trust. For  those whose ability to trust has been eroded through others’ inhumanity, a word, a smile may make a difference. Few of us will ever find ourselves stepping in to prevent a suicide at the last moment, but we may, all unknowingly, help to do so before that.

From across the main road, my view of the crib was no better than in the photo, but I knew what I was looking at: even in the darkest, murkiest times, there is hope.

crib saddleworth.jpg

 

 

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31 December: And a Happy New year!

work4cause.png

I was very taken with this challenge outside one of the local charity shops.

Pope Francis is forever challenging us to ‘live to express’ the love of God for each human being and for all his creation.

So what is your New Year’s resolution? Apply within yourself to find a personal challenge, and give it a go! You might put a smile on your face – or someone else’s.

Happy New Year.

 

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29 December: Saint Thomas of Canterbury

cathedralbyellie2

The New Year waits, breathes, waits, whispers in darkness.
While the labourer kicks off a muddy boot and stretches his hand to the fire,

The New Year waits, destiny waits for the coming.
Who has stretched out his hand to the fire and remembered the Saints at All Hallows,
Remembered the martyrs and saints who wait? and who shall
Stretch out his hand to the fire, and deny his master:
who shall be warm

By the fire, and deny his master?

fire.Moses

This is from the opening of T S Eliot’s ‘Murder in the Cathedral’,* written for the Canterbury Festival, 1935. A chorus of Canterbury women are setting the scene for the events that followed Saint Thomas’s return from exile in 1170. We will celebrate his 850th anniversary next year. 

Will we be ready to leave our comfort zone this coming year?

*See Universal Library for full text.

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29 December: The Holy Family

 

Holy Family Window, Catholic Church, Saddleworth

Holy Family Window, Catholic Church, Saddleworth

There always seems to be a romantic air to images of the Holy Family, at least when baby Jesus has become a boy. Here He seems to be concentrating hard, learning poetry by heart – a Psalm, perhaps Ps 22/3, since the shepherd and his sheep are within sight, making for quiet waters. The style of this window suggests it was created before 1967, when the building was acquired by the Catholic community from Ebenezer chapel. 

There are traditional representations of Mary as a girl with her mother, reading together; since we have no Scriptural reference to Mary before her Annunciation, such an image would not have appeared in a Congregational chapel. Mary surely taught Jesus in many ways. and perhaps the artist was sending a message that parents should be teaching their children to read the Bible and learn some verses.

… That is as far as my thoughts had taken me when I went to a funeral of Theresa, someone I probably knew by sight – Saint Thomas’ in Canterbury has the excellent tradition of holding funerals at the daily noontime Mass, so there is always some silent support for the family. At the end her grandson said a few words, describing how she had taken great pride in her role as home-maker: that was her job, she said. She always had time for her grandchildren, hosting them for the summer holidays, walking through the orchards or into the city. Time and good meals! Love was her way.

We parents and grandparents may need lessons from Scripture and stained glass, but – is not this the carpenter’s son? The Gospel writers suggest that Jesus and his family did not stand out as specially different in Nazareth. As the window suggests, Joseph and Mary both played their part in making a home in Cairo and in Nazareth; we talk about those times as ‘the Hidden Life’. Our families’ lives are, mercifully, hidden most of the time; may they be Holy Families and grow in holiness.

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27 December: Look deeper than this pleasant scene.

pilgrimscrib4

Like me, you have probably heard tell of  Saint Francis and the crib but like me, you may never have heard the full story. Follow the link to Friar Jack Wintz’s excellent telling of the story. I won’t attempt to precis his account as I’m sure you’ll enjoy it. I leave you with Friar Jack’s final paragraphs. 

Peace be with you and yours!

Will Turnstone.

Francis would smile at our nice varnished cribs, though he would bless any home that has one. Probably he would prefer those set up outdoors with live animals. And if he were to stand by one and preach today, he might say something like this:

“Look deeper than this pleasant scene. See your God become your food for eternity in a feeding place for animals. See the simple bands wound around the helpless baby, not the embroidered dress. See a man and woman wearing the clothes of the poor. See and smell the animals. Feel the cold and dirt of the cave, lighted only by a little fire. And adore your God, who took a human heart that could know the greatest love and the sharpest pain, arms that could embrace the sinners, the neurotics, the lepers, and hands that could touch cheeks running with tears, and be pierced with nails. Adore your poor and humble God.”

 

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26 December: Sober this Christmas?

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I was looking for inspiration for Saint Stephen’s day, a martyrdom straight after the birth of baby Jesus. I also had an eye open for frankincense, because Abel is to play Caspar the Wise Man or King in the school Nativity play. Siesta is the obvious shop for such things in Canterbury and they did not disappoint: half a dozen sticks of frankincense, or so they claim were soon found and in my bag.

It was on my way out that I saw the card, the bright red was hard to ignore. The message on the front read, ‘What’s sobriety got to do with Christmas’, which reminded me of the ancient card or cracker joke: ‘be like the early Christians this Christmas, get stoned.’ Which brings us back to Saint Stephen, shown here with a pile of the stones people used to kill him. The statue is above the main door of his Church in Canterbury.

Already on Pentecost Day the Apostles had been accused of drunkenness because of their proclamation of the Good News (Acts 2:15). A few weeks later Stephen was arrested, and his words sound like a drunken illusion (Acts 7:56-60).

Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God.

Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord, and cast him out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man’s feet, whose name was Saul. And they stoned Stephen, [who was] calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep.

Even when stone-cold sober, people can act irrationally and sinfully; a sobering message indeed.

Let us pray for all our Christian sisters and brothers who are trying to live out their vocation as members of a minority, sometimes suspected of treason, open to accusations of blasphemy, and liable to suffer violence and murder.

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